Saturday, January 16, 2021

Iraq and the lack of a buy-in

The US Defense Dept published a story which includes the following:

There are now 2,500 U.S. service members in Iraq and 2,500 in Afghanistan. It is the lowest number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan since operations started there in 2001.

The reductions were longtime goals of the Trump administration. 

The drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq follows the successful Iraqi military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

"The drawdown of U.S. force levels in Iraq is reflective of the increased capabilities of the Iraqi security forces," Miller said in a written statement. "We have long anticipated that the force level required to support Iraq's fight against ISIS would decrease as Iraq's capability to manage the threat from ISIS improves. Our ability to reduce force levels is evidence of real progress."

The acting secretary stressed the reduction of American force strength does not mean a change in U.S. policy in the country or region. U.S. forces will continue to work with Iraqi security forces and forces from the anti-ISIS coalition to ensure the enduring defeat of the terrorist group. 

Iraqi government officials know that ISIS remains a threat, and the presence of U.S. and coalition forces helps build Iraqi forces and deters the reconstitution of the terror network in the country, Miller said.

"We will continue to have a counterterrorism platform in Iraq to support partner forces with air power and intelligence," the acting secretary said. "Most operations in Iraq were already being conducted by our Iraqi partners, enabled by U.S. and Coalition forces. We can continue to provide this support to our Iraqi partners at the reduced U.S. force level."

We noted the news at the end of Friday's snapshot.  We're noting it because the reduction is news.  We're noting it because the claims of the success of the Iraqi security forces is being repeated again -- as it was in 2006 and then in late 2008 and then in . . . 

So just remember that it's been claimed before.  That's not to say US troops should remain.  All US troops should depart.  That's always been the case.  The struggles that Iraq's security forces repeatedly have is due to their government which is non-representative, does not serve them and often punishes them.  It's very hard to forge a national identity attached to a government system to begin with but especially when the government does not serve the people.

Sura Ali (RUDAW) reports:

About three million Iraqis are not consuming enough food, the World Food Programme (WFP) representative in Iraq told state media on Thursday.

"About 3 million people in Iraq suffer from insufficient food consumption, and this includes 731,000 food-insecure IDPs and returnees,"  Abdulrahman Mejaj said.

The figures provided by Mejaj mean that almost half of the estimated 1.3 million Iraqis who are currently internally displaced are suffering from food insecurity.

WFP's Hunger Monitoring System found in November 2020 that around 2.6 million people – roughly seven percent of Iraq’s total population – had “insufficient levels of food consumption”. 

The Iraqi government is a new construct, one created/imposed by the US-led coalition government/occupier that followed the 2003 US-led invasion.  It's a new construct and the Iraqi people see -- day after day -- how it does not work for them.  The leaders get rich, the people suffer.  The leaders lead protected lives while the Iraqi people are constantly at risk -- including from violence carried out against them by their own government.  Human Rights Watch published "World Report 2021" on Wednesday and this is from their section on Iraq:

Arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings of demonstrators by Iraqi security forces in late 2019 and into 2020 led to government resignations and the nomination of a new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, in May 2020. Despite an initial seeming willingness to address some of Iraq’s most serious human rights challenges, al-Kadhimi’s government failed to end abuses against protesters.

Iraq’s criminal justice system was riddled with the widespread use of torture and forced confessions and, despite serious due process violations, authorities carried out numerous judicial executions.

Iraqi law contained a range of defamation and incitement provisions that authorities used against critics, including journalists, activists, and protesters to silence dissent.

The Covid-19 pandemic had a particularly harmful impact on students kept out of school for months during nationwide school closures, many of whom were unable to access any remote learning.

Excessive Force against Protesters

In a wave of protests that began in October 2019 and continued into late 2020, clashes with security forces, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF or Hashad, nominally under the control of the prime minister), left at least 560 protesters and security forces dead in Baghdad and Iraq’s southern cities.

In July 2020, the government announced it would compensate the families of those killed during the protests and that it had arrested three low-level security forces officers. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, no senior commanders have been prosecuted. After a spate of killings and attempted killings of protesters in Basra in August 2020, the government fired Basra’s police chief and the governorate’s director of national security but seemingly did not refer anyone for prosecution. In May 2020, when Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi took office, he formed a committee to investigate the killings of protesters. It had yet to announce any findings publicly as of late 2020.

In May, security forces in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region arrested dozens of people planning to participate in protests against delayed government salaries, a persistent issue since 2015. At August 2020 protests by civil servants in the Kurdistan Region demanding unpaid wages, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) security forces beat and arbitrarily detained protesters and journalists.

Silencing Free Speech

Iraq’s penal code, which dates back to 1969, enshrines numerous defamation “crimes,” such as “insult[ing] the Arab community” or any government official, regardless of whether the statement is true. Although few individuals served prison time on defamation charges, the criminal process itself acted as a punishment. Reporting on corruption and abuses by the security forces was especially risky.

Authorities also invoked other laws and regulations to limit free speech. The Communications and Media Commission (CMC), a “financially and administratively independent institution” linked to parliament, in 2014 issued without legal basis “mandatory” guidelines to regulate media during “the war on terror”—a phrase it did not define. These guidelines were updated in May 2019 and renamed the “Media Broadcasting Rules.” They restrict freedom of the press to the point of requiring pro-government coverage.

The CMC suspended Reuters’s license under its broadcast media regulations powers for three months and fined it 25 million IQD (US$21,000) for an April 2, 2020 article alleging that the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country was much higher than official statistics indicated. Authorities lifted the suspension on April 19.

The KRG used similar laws in force in the Kurdistan Region to curb free speech, including the penal code, the Press Law, and the Law to Prevent the Misuse of Telecommunications Equipment.

Civil society efforts were successful in preventing passage of a deeply flawed cybercrimes bill in November.

Arbitrary Detention

Iraqi forces arbitrarily detained Islamic State (also known as ISIS) suspects for months, and some for years. According to witnesses and family members, security forces regularly detained suspects without any court order or arrest warrant and often did not provide a reason for the arrest.

Iraqi authorities also arbitrarily detained protesters and released them later, some within hours or days and others within weeks, without charge.

Despite requests, the central government failed to disclose which security and military structures have a legal mandate to detain people, and in which facilities.

Fair Trial Violations

In January 2020, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) published a report assessing the criminal justice system, based on independent monitoring of 794 criminal court trials, 619 of them for men, women and children charged under Iraq’s dangerously overbroad  counterterrorism law. It supported Human Rights Watch findings that basic fair trial standards were not respected in terrorism-related trials.

Iraqi judges routinely prosecuted ISIS suspects solely on the overbroad charge of ISIS affiliation, rather than for the specific violent crimes they may have committed. Trials were generally rushed, based on a defendant’s confession, and did not involve victim participation. Authorities systematically violated the due process rights of suspects, such as guarantees in Iraqi law that detainees see a judge within 24 hours and have access to a lawyer throughout interrogations, and that their families are notified and should be able to communicate with them during detention.

Detainees have shared graphic accounts of torture during interrogations in Mosul’s prisons under the control of the Ministry of Interior, in some cases leading to their deaths. These allegations are consistent with reports of the widespread use of torture by Iraqi forces to extract confessions instead of carrying out robust criminal investigations.

Authorities can prosecute child suspects as young as 9 with alleged ISIS affiliation in Baghdad-controlled areas and 11 in the KRI,  in violation of international standards, which recognize children recruited by armed groups primarily as victims who should be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society, and call for a minimum age of criminal responsibility of 14 years or older. One Mosul committee improved its handling of the prosecution of child suspects.

Conditions in Detention

Authorities detained criminal suspects in overcrowded and in some cases inhuman conditions. According to media reports, authorities released 20,000 prisoners in April as a preventive measure in response to the Covid-19 pandemic but did not share any information on the identities of those released and the criteria for selecting them. Authorities refused to respond when asked to share or make public the number of people in Iraqi prisons, making it impossible to assess whether the releases sufficiently reduced the acute overcrowding to enable social distancing. In July, there were 31 Covid-19 cases reported at a prison in Baghdad.

Not a lot to make security forces feel tied to the government.

We saw the schism when the Iraqi military carried out the attack against Basra back in 2008 and so many members of the military elected to opt out of the battle.  We saw it in Nasiriyah days ago when the 'police' (and militia forces) attacked the protesters and the military refused to just stand by but instead confronted -- with bullets -- the 'police.'  The Iraqi government pits Iraqi against Iraqi and this results in the constant turnover and the constant training and retraining.

The following sites updated:

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